|Words that open our eyes to the world are always the easiest to remember. - Ryszard Kapuscinski|
No. 5, Part II, 8 January 1997
This is Part II of the Open Media Research Institute's Daily Digest. Part II is a compilation of news concerning Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Part I, covering Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia, is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of the OMRI Daily Digest, and other information about OMRI, are available through OMRI's WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/Index.html CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE EASTERN UKRAINIAN REGIONS ACT ON LANGUAGE. The eastern region of Kharkiv voted to give the Russian language equal status with Ukrainian as of the beginning of the year, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 January. At the same time, the administration in the predominantly Russian-speaking eastern region of Donetsk took the opposite position, deciding that the official language in the region's administration and business would be solely Ukrainian. Under the Ukrainian constitution, only Ukrainian has state status as a language, but regions with sizable minorities speaking other languages can grant official status to that language. -- Ustina Markus GAZPROM WONT CUT GAS TO BELARUS. Gazprom has denied that it threatened to cut gas supplies to Belarus because of unpaid debts, Belarusian TV reported on 6 January. Citing ITAR-TASS, the report noted that Gazprom officials are continuing to deliver regular gas supplies to Belarus because the republic has started to pay its debts. -- Ustina Markus BELARUS MAY BE EXPELLED FROM COUNCIL OF EUROPE. Belarus may lose its observer status in the Council of Europe because Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has ignored its protests over the 24 November constitutional referendum, AFP reported on 7 January. The referendum gave Lukashenka sweeping new powers, but there were allegations of irregularities in the voting and the conduct of the campaign to promote Lukashenka's new constitution. The council's 40-member committee is to meet later this month to consider the proposal to expel Belarus. Belarus has had a special guest status in the organization since September 1992, and applied for full membership in March 1993. -- Ustina Markus ESTONIAN RELATIONS WITH COUNCIL OF EUROPE. A law introducing life imprisonment went into effect in Estonia on 5 January, ETA reported on 7 January. Although the law does not abolish the death penalty, it is seen as the first step toward phasing out capital punishment, in accordance with Council of Europe norms. The same day, Estonia's permanent representative to the Council of Europe, Ambassador Karin Jaani, handed over the instruments of ratification of the Council of Europe convention for the protection of national minorities to the secretary general of the organization, Daniel Tarschys. Apart from Estonia, the convention has so far been ratified by seven states, and signed by six others. It will go into effect after 12 states have ratified it. -- Ustina Markus LITHUANIAN DAILY STOPS PUBLICATION. The daily Diena, formerly known as Tiesa, stopped publication on 1 January without notifying its subscribers, BNS reported on 7 January. The paper has come upon hard times financially, and must either declare bankruptcy or sell a controlling package of its stock. Diena staff refused to release circulation figures for the paper, but other publishers believe it is only 5,000, while major Lithuanian papers have a circulation of 42,000- 70,000. -- Ustina Markus POLISH DOCTORS ON STRIKE. Polish doctors on 7 January launched a strike by starting to refer simple medical cases for further examination in a protest action aimed at securing higher pay and funding, Polish media reported. But, according to Rzeczpospolita on 8 January, it is difficult to distinguish doctors who are on strike from those who are not. The strike is being organized by the All-Poland Doctors Labor Union (OZZL), which groups together about one-third of Poland's 90,000 doctors. Jacek Wutzow, deputy president of the OZZL, said that 650 hospitals and 1,000 medical centers are taking part in the protest. The doctors have called for budget spending on the health service to rise to 6% of GDP, while the government has allocated 4.5%. They are also seeking a collective wage deal, which would increase doctors' monthly salaries to about 3,000 zlotys (more than $1,000), which is about three times the average industrial wage. -- Jakub Karpinski POLAND PREPARING TO JOIN NATO. Polish Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said on 7 January that as Russian leaders stepped up opposition to NATO enlargement, Poland was forging ahead with its own preparations to join the alliance. Cimoszewicz was commenting on a meeting this week in Moscow, at which President Boris Yeltsin and other Russian politicians confirmed their objections to NATO's eastward expansion. Cimoszewicz said that on 6 January Poland's National Defense Committee, grouping the president, prime minister, key ministers, and parliamentary and army leaders, agreed to set up a special body to harmonize their actions concerning NATO. The body would be headed by Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati. -- Jakub Karpinski POLISH PARTY POLITICS. Four Freedom Union (UW) deputies, Wojciech Arkuszewski, Bronislaw Komorowski, Zdobyslaw Milewski, and Jan Maria Rokita, decided to leave the party after a two-hour meeting with the UW parliamentary caucus, Rzeczpospolita reported on 8 January. UW spokesman Andrzej Potocki called the decision "unwise." Komorowski said recently that a new political party is to be created that would unite the People's-Christian Party and the Conservative Coalition. Some UW politicians have been invited to join the new political formation, according to Komorowski. The UW is generally seen as encompassing divergent political tendencies, from socialist to conservative. The four were considered to have been a part of the UW's conservative wing. -- Jakub Karpinski CZECH PRESIDENT RETURNS TO OFFICE. In a ceremony at the Prague castle, Vaclav Havel on 7 January officially named Vlasta Parkanova the new minister of justice, Czech media reported. This was the first time since his lung cancer surgery in early December that Havel made a public appearance in his capacity as president. Havel left hospital at the end of December. At the beginning of January, he unexpectedly married actress Dagmar Veskrnova. Havel has also announced that he has given up drinking and smoking. -- Jiri Pehe SLOVAK REFERENDUM UPDATE. Christian Democratic Movement deputy Ivan Simko on 7 January announced that the drive to hold direct presidential elections would begin two days later, Slovak media reported. The opposition hopes to gather 400,000 signatures over the next two months, 50,000 more than required. Currently, the president is elected by a three-fifths parliamentary majority, but the opposition fears that when current President Michal Kovac's term expires in March 1998, the parliament will be unable to agree on a new candidate. In that case, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar would take over some presidential duties. New parliamentary elections are scheduled for fall 1998. In other news, the Slovak Helsinki Committee on 7 January backed calls for direct presidential elections and expressed support for Kovac's re-election. The group said Kovac has demonstrated considerable understanding for democracy; perseverance and tenacity while defending humanitarian principles; and patience, loyalty, and generosity in disputes that were forced on him. -- Sharon Fisher SLOVAKIA TO DISCUSS NATO MEMBERSHIP. Foreign Minister Pavol Hamzik on 7 January said the cabinet will officially begin public discussions of the implications of NATO membership this month, TASR reported. The government has already announced plans to hold a referendum on NATO membership, tentatively set for May of this year. Hamzik said Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Klaus, will meet in the near future for their first official bilateral meeting in several years. Hamzik said he is also arranging visits by Meciar to Bonn and by German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel to Bratislava, although dates have yet to be finalized. Meanwhile, speaking on Radio Twist on 7 January, Association of Workers (ZRS) Chairman Jan Luptak asked why Slovakia should enter NATO, Praca reported. "We do not want to wage a war, we want to live in peace with our neighbors," Luptak stressed. The ZRS is a junior partner in the ruling coalition. -- Sharon Fisher HUNGARIAN PENSION REFORM REJECTED. Hungary's Pension Insurance Authority on 7 January rejected the draft pension reform program proposed by the Finance and Welfare ministries, Hungarian media reported the next day. The program would reallocate one-third of wage earners' pension contributions away from the state pension fund to non-profit funds, which would be able to invest the contributions. Pension Insurance President Janos Vago described the reform program as "unacceptable" since it would be most advantageous for young men with high incomes. Finance Ministry State Secretary Tibor Draskovics responded that Hungary needs a pension system that promotes economic growth as well as providing security for retirees. The pension reform draft is the government's most recent attempt to reform Hungary's overburdened social welfare system, which is currently providing pensions to one-third of the population. -- Ben Slay SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE SERBIAN OPPOSITION LAUNCHES CHRISTMAS "CHARM OFFENSIVE." Tens of thousands of Serbs attended public demonstrations on 7 January, which is Serbian Orthodox Christmas, AFP and CNN reported. In a new tactic, people kissed the riot police, who are President Slobodan Milosevic's last bastion of defense. Opposition leader Vuk Draskovic appealed to the police: "Even Tito's communist regime did not make its police turn out onto the streets for Christmas. The young people in police uniforms are also part of the people. It's Christmas for you too, do you know that? [The authorities] are sending you here today to provoke bloodshed. But Christmas is the biggest Christian festival ... and therefore, I say to the police, divine peace, Christ is born." -- Patrick Moore BELGRADE PROTESTS CONTINUE. Opposition representatives and other observers suspect that the explosion at the headquarters of a tiny party run by President Milosevic's wife was a provocation by the authorities themselves (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 January 1997). Opposition leader Vesna Pesic likened it to the Reichstag fire incident of 1933, Nasa Borba reported on 8 January. Protest plans for today center on a campaign to block government telephone lines by calling officials and then leaving the phone off the hook. Lists of government phone numbers, including Milosevic's, have been distributed. Draskovic also appealed to citizens to stage another protest by traffic jam. In other Serbian news, a new law has come into effect that allows employers to fire workers at their own discretion, thereby removing some job protection rights. -- Patrick Moore SERBIAN OPPOSITION SEEKS INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT. Zoran Djindjic of the opposition Zajedno (Together) coalition has appealed to foreign countries to put more pressure on President Milosevic to recognize the 17 November local election results. He told a German radio station: "This is at the moment probably the only thing that can make [Milosevic] move," AFP reported. EU and U.S. flags are prominent at opposition rallies, which reflects popular appreciation for foreign support. The independent media closely follow foreign coverage of Serbian affairs, and opposition leaders frequently give interviews in English or German to Western media. All of this is in stark contrast to the xenophobic tone of the Milosevic regime and its media, which were particularly anti-U.S. and anti-German in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, in Bonn, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel endorsed opposition demands and called for continuing the suspension of EU financial benefits for Serbia, Nasa Borba wrote on 8 January. He nonetheless warned against any expectations that Milosevic himself could be ousted soon, AFP noted. -- Patrick Moore BOSNIAN FEDERATION PRIME MINISTER THREATENS MINERS WITH "REPRESSION." Edhem Bicakcic, the newly-appointed prime minister of the mainly Muslim- Croat Federation, said on 6 January that the federation's coal miners are free to go on strike, but they are prohibited from blocking the movement of traffic through the country, Oslobodjenje reported the next day. At a meeting with representatives of coal miners from central Bosnia and Tuzla, Bicakcic said the Tuzla miners receive their salaries regularly thanks to revenues from production and reserves, which is not the case in central Bosnia, Onasa reported. He said the mines must secure their own resources through the commercial sale of coal. -- Daria Sito Sucic TEAR GAS THROWN DURING ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS SERVICE IN SARAJEVO . . . The Interior Ministry of the Bosnian Federation said on 7 January that tear gas was thrown into a Sarajevo church by an unknown person during a Christmas day service for Orthodox Serbs the same day, AFP reported. There were no casualties among some 40 people who attended the service. Meanwhile, Cardinal Vinko Puljic, the Roman Catholic archbishop, joined a group of Orthodox Serbs celebrating Christmas in Sarajevo's oldest church in a show of ecumenical unity. His visit follows that of Serb Archbishop Nikolai to Sarajevo's Catholic cathedral for the Catholic Christmas service. In other news, a mosque in the Sarajevo suburb of Hrasnica was sprayed with machine-gun fire on 6 January by an unknown person, AFP reported. In news from Mostar, another Muslim has been evicted from the Croat-held part of the town. The elderly woman, who was illegally evicted from her home, was found dead in an abandoned building, while a Croat soldier moved into her apartment. -- Daria Sito Sucic . . . AND EXPLOSION DAMAGES CATHOLIC CHURCH IN EASTERN SLAVONIA. UN spokesman Philip Arnold said on 7 January that a Catholic church was damaged by an explosion a day earlier in the town of Ilok in eastern Slavonia, the last Serb-held part of Croatia, AFP reported. No one was hurt in the blast. The same church was besieged by Serb demonstrators from the area on 24 December as some 200 Croat returnees celebrated Catholic Christmas eve (see OMRI Daily Digest, 30 December 1996). -- Daria Sito Sucic ROMANIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO COMBAT CORRUPTION. Emil Constantinescu on 7 January vowed to combat rampant corruption and organized crime, saying they pose a direct threat to national security, Romanian media reported. Constantinescu, who was speaking at an extraordinary meeting of Romania's Supreme Defense Council, proposed the creation of a national council to deal with the problem. Also on 7 January, the president's office rejected the accusations of nepotism that have been leveled against Constantinescu in the media. A statement said that the prefect of Arges is not Constantinescu's brother-in-law, as assumed by some newspapers. The accusations multiplied after the son of Constantinescu's counselor for foreign and internal affairs, Zoe Petre, was appointed to the post of presidential counselor. -- Dan Ionescu CONTROVERSY AROUND ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER'S VISIT TO BUDAPEST. Independent and opposition newspapers have accused Adrian Severin of allegedly giving in to Hungarian requests for the re-establishment of the former Hungarian Bolyai University in Cluj and the reopening of a Hungarian consulate in the same city during his recent visit to Hungary. Former President Ion Iliescu said the opening of the Cluj consulate would be a sign of the "weakness of Romanian diplomacy." According to President Emil Constantinescu, Severin was not mandated to discuss the university problem or the issue of bilingual inscriptions in minority areas. Severin said those topics were not on the agenda of his talks with Hungarian officials. In other news, Constantinescu urged Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to accept the opposition's local election victories and defuse the crisis in that country, Reuters reported. -- Zsolt Mato UPDATE ON BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT FORMATION. The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and its tiny coalition partners -- the Bulgarian Agrarian People's Union "Aleksandar Stamboliyski" and the Political Club Ekoglasnost -- on 7 January continued to discuss the formation of a new government. The BSP that day nominated Interior Minister Nikolay Dobrev for prime minister, and the leaderships of all three parties are expected to vote on the proposal today. An unnamed BSP leader said Ekoglasnost will support Dobrev and not parliamentary speaker Blagovest Sendov, whom they proposed originally. In return they demand the Interior Ministry for Ekoglasnost leader Stefan Gaytandzhiev, Duma reported. According to Trud, Sendov may also stand in today's election at the insistence of the BSP's partners. BSP Chairman Georgi Parvanov did not rule out such a possibility, Standart noted. The daily also noted that the ruling coalition will not be enlarged. The opposition Union of Democratic Forces said a new BSP-led government will be a "tragedy for Bulgaria." -- Stefan Krause BULGARIAN PRESIDENT, ARMY CHIEF DISCUSS CORRUPTION. Zhelyu Zhelev and the chief of staff of the Bulgarian army, Gen. Tsvetan Totomirov, met on 7 January to discuss recent charges of corruption in the armed forces, RFE/RL reported. No details about their meeting were released. It was prompted by a letter published earlier in Bulgarian newspapers and signed by "a group of officers from Sofia." The authors complained that the Defense Ministry is spending large sums of money on lavish foreign trips for top military officials, expensive cars, and new German-made computers, while at the same time "hungry, ill-dressed soldiers" are forgotten and wages are not paid. The letter praised Totomirov, a Zhelev appointee. Analysts believe the letter is linked to the split between hardliners and reformers in the BSP and may aim at preventing the renomination of current Defense Minister Dimitar Pavlov. -- Stefan Krause DEMOCRATIC ALLIANCE CHARGES ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT . The Democratic Alliance Party on 7 January accused the government of misusing investments of Albanians in pyramid schemes to finance its campaign in May 1996 parliamentary elections. The statement said that "the collapse of such pyramid schemes has started," adding that "the government and the one-party state of the Democratic Party should bear responsibility for the losses incurred by Albanians," Reuters reported. The governing Democratic Party's (PD) public relations chief, Arben Cejku, described the accusations as "vile slander," Reuters reported. Cejku said the PD had obtained its share of campaign money from the state budget, in line with an Albanian law that allocates funds for political campaigning based on the parties' share of parliamentary seats. He also pointed out that the PD's parliamentary group had sponsored the creation of a parliamentary commission last November to investigate the pyramid schemes. -- Fabian Schmidt [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 1211-1570 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ SUBSCRIBING/UNSUBSCRIBING 1) Compose a message to LISTSERV@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU 2) To subscribe, write: SUBSCRIBE OMRI-L FirstName LastName (include your own name) To unsubscribe, write: UNSUBSCRIBE OMRI-L 3) Send the message BACK ISSUES Back issues of the OMRI Daily Digest are available through the World Wide Web, by FTP and by E-mail. 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